“Trade Unions have an important role to play in climate negotiations”

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Merlyn Van Voore is the coordinator for the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) engagement with the Adaptation Fund, which finances projects and programmes to help developing countries adapt to the negative effects of climate change.

Equal Times spoke to her during the trade union climate summit, on 14 September 2015.

How do you feel about the current pledges made by the different countries, ahead of COP21?

Countries are making their pledges based on their own assessment of what they are capable of doing. Our argument at UNEP is that there is an aggregate target that we are all aware of, and we need to stay in that target. The question then becomes: does your own national assessment, your own pledges, help to do that?

Some countries believe that what they are putting on the table is their best effort, their maximum. There are some concerns that perhaps the best is not good enough. And what we are going to be doing, as UNEP, is trying to make an assessment of whether those pledges do actually add up.

Not all of the country pledges are in yet so in order to have a better aggregate global picture of whether the pledges are good enough, it’s too early to say.

But we do know that our preliminary analysis suggests that we are still far away from where we should be.

Is this the “last chance” summit? If we don’t get a binding agreement this time, is it too late for humanity?

No it’s never too late. The reason why a globally binding agreement is important is that it sends a signal; first of all, that this is a collective problem.

It’s not too late because we know they are many other actors like young people, social movements, who are actually already doing things, alongside what national governments commit to, and that’s also important.

So I think that we have to keep track of the fact that they are national commitments that governments undertake, but that they are also cities, big movements, – like the divestment movement of college students – so things are already happening.

Then the question just becomes: we hope that it all adds up to keep us within the 2°C, but it’s not too late.

What can unions bring to the table to help reach a binding agreement in Paris?

I think that the important role of trade unions, similar to other social movements, is that they have a role to play in terms of pressurising not just employers, but also the trade union federations that are actually owners of wealth, with their pension funds.

So they can begin to send signals about how they would want their pension funds to invest, hopefully in something more sustainable, and that it will also insure returns for these members.

So yes it’s about putting pressure but also about ensuring that their voice as a group becomes more amplified.

We have seen before a divide between North and South, old energies and clean energies. Do you think this is still an issue or is there a convergence of point of views between North and South and between workers in various industries?

I think we do often set up our understanding of the problem in a dichotomy: developed versus developing, rich versus poor…

I think that going forward – and this is why the Paris agreement is so important – changes, or should change, the dynamic of us versus them, you first then I follow, dirty jobs are more secure, green jobs are too expensive and unpredictable.

And I think we will start seeing a lot of the blurring of that distinction and that it will definitely disappear as we move towards 2030, which is when our new agreement hopefully starts to show results.